Creme de la mean


If The Great British Bake Off has encouraged a nation of have-a-go bakers I can only think the pro version – Crème de la Crème (Tuesday nights, BBC2) –  will have the opposite effect. This is a show where Britain’s top patissiers shed blood, sweat and custard to create the most incredibly elaborate sweet delights only to be lambasted by the ‘exacting’ judges a.k.a. the pastry world’s axis of evil. The three judges are respectively, anal (‘I expect you to use a ruler’), rude (‘I’m bored, there’s nothing more I can say’) and patronising (‘I’m surprised but I quite like it’), and are so tight with their scoring you wonder what the competitors could possibly do to achieve that elusive additional 40+%.

There’s no banter, no innuendo and, God love her, no Mary Berry. It’s all a bit joyless and po-faced: even Tom Kerridge’s faintly embarrassed attempts at injecting a little West Country warmth into the exchanges are met with withering glances from the judges, like he’s one warning away from the naughty stair. The only people having any fun – or so I imagine – are the crew, who get to hoover up a gazillion leftover petit gateaux when filming’s over.

I’m still watching it of course. After all it’s a competition involving food and you might know by now how I feel about them. Also my local patisserie is taking part and they won their first heat so I feel duty bound to support them – even if I don’t go in and buy an eclair very often.

Last week the 9yo joined me to watch, which I think had more to do with bedtime diversion tactics than it did his interest in precision baking. A conversation ensued that went something like this:

9yo: Who is your favourite judge?

Me: They’re all really mean, but I guess the French one. At least he has a bit of a sense of humour. And I like the way he says sponge.

9yo: How does he say it?

Me: Spoonge.

9yo: Really? Can I stay up to see if he says it again?

After 20 mins:

9yo: …still hasn’t said it.

Me: No, probably won’t now – they’ve moved onto cheesecake. You don’t often use spoonge in cheesecake.

9yo (shouting at telly): SAY SPOONGE! SAY SPOONGE! SAY SPOONGE!

Me: Time for bed. Go and do your teeth.

9yo: Awwww!

Five minutes later, he pops head around door:

9yo: Did he say spoonge?

Me: No.

9yo: So disappointing.

The following day we are discussing, en famille, the inclement weather and the toll it is taking on our skin.

Husband: It’s nearly May and I’ve got chapped lips.

9yo: Yeah I know. It’s been a really rubbish year so far. First David Bowie dies, then Prince dies – although I’m not really bothered about that – I’ve got chappy lips, it hasn’t snowed AND that French man off the telly never said spoonge.

At times like these I have an overwhelming desire to be nine again.

Anyway, here’s a some baklava. Don’t worry, no ruler required (and sorry, it doesn’t contain spoonge).

Almond and pistachio baklava

No precision cutting to be seen here

This recipe is (only very slightly) adapted from one in Sabrina Ghayour’s marvellous Persiana (I just got a copy of her new book Sirocco about which I am v excited). Her addition of lime and orange zest cuts through the sticky sweetness. This is both a good and bad thing: it means one piece is never enough.

Serves 10

  • 300g ground almonds
  • 100g pistachio nut kernels, roughly chopped
  • 100g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • seeds from 6 green cardamom pods, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, melted (although I had lots left over)
  • 2 packets of filo pastry (12 sheets)
  • sesame seeds to sprinkle over

For the syrup

  • 200ml water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 300g caster sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (fan – although I cranked my ancient fan oven up to 175°).
  2. Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Brush the bottom of a baking tin measuring 25-30cm square (or thereabouts – I used a slightly smaller rectangle one to no harm) with melted butter and then line with 6 sheets of filo, making sure there is plenty of overhang for you to seal the baklava later. Brush the exposed pastry with plenty of melted butter.
  4. Tip in the nut mixture and spread out evenly, then top with 5 of the remaining filo sheets. Fold over the overhanging filo from the bottom sheets, then top with the final sheet of filo, brushing this with more melted butter.
  5. With a sharp knife cut squares or diagonal lines through the top layers of pastry (don’t even think about using a ruler, OK?).
  6. Bake for 25-30 mins, sprinkling over sesame seeds about half way through the cooking time.
  7. While the baklava is cooking, make the syrup by putting all the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved and then simmering for about 20 minutes until the liquid thickens and becomes, you know, syrupy.
  8. Remove baklava from oven and drizzle over syrup, then leave to cool in tin before cutting. Dust over icing sugar if you wish to prettify, or to hide any untidy bits. Don’t worry, no one will judge you for it.




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